July 18, 2008

Legal Road Gets Less Bumpy for Highway Chief

By Bob Gardinier, Albany Times Union, N.Y.

Jul. 18--TROY -- A judge has thrown out nearly half of the 44 felony counts lodged in February against a town highway superintendent accused of purchasing gravel from an illegal mine and submitting forged documents to cover it up.

Stephentown Highway Superintendent Neil Gardner, 52, was indicted Feb. 15 on 22 counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, 10 counts of first-degree falsifying business records and 12 counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, all felonies. He is also charged with one misdemeanor count of operating a mine without a permit.

He is free pending trial in September.

Gardner's lawyer, Thomas Spargo, made motions recently to have the entire indictment thrown out, arguing his client was not guilty of any crime. Rensselaer County Judge Robert Jacon then ruled last week that there was insufficient evidence put before the grand jury to support 20 of the 44 felony counts.

The quashed charges include 10 counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and 10 counts of first-degree falsifying business records. Those charges applied to gravel billing slips forwarded to the town that Gardner allegedly approved.

State Assistant Attorney General Nancy Snyder appeared before Jacon Tuesday to argue against his ruling but the judge said his decision would stand.

The indictment, the result of a state Department of Environmental Conservation investigation, accuses Gardner of falsifying documents filed with the town to conceal his purchase of thousands of cubic yards of sand and gravel for the town from a mine that did not have a state operating permit on property on Route 22 owned by Anthony Cormier.

In October 2006, state investigators took records from the offices of the town clerk, Gardner and Russ Freeman of Russ Freeman Excavating Inc. in Nassau, which regularly performed work for the Stephentown Highway Department. Freeman mined and delivered the gravel and billed the town.

The case began when Freeman sent a bill to the town for $30,715, but the town refused to pay after discovering the mine was illegal, officials have said.

According to the indictment, Gardner is also accused of knowing town records were manipulated in November 2005 to make it look like the gravel came from a legally operated mine run by Troy Sand and Gravel of West Sand Lake. Gardner still faces felony counts on those charges.

Freeman pleaded guilty in Town Court in October 2007 to second-degree offering a false instrument for filing and was fined $1,000. He died of cancer in December.

Bob Gardinier can be reached at 454-5696 or by e-mail at [email protected]


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